Saving the Children

Have you ever been in a restaurant or store and overheard or watched a child being reprimanded by a parent or another adult? Most of us are intuitively aware when things have crossed the line into child abuse, but we usually remain silent and walk away. Children are a gift, and we shirk our responsibility as a society every time we remain silent when one of God’s own gets hurt.

I had a professor in seminary, Dr. Gary Pratico, who had done archaeological work near Carthage in North Africa. He studied the same Phoenician culture that produced atrocities against children by the Israelites in the period before the Exile. Contrary to God’s value for children, the Israelites sacrificed their children to the gods Molech or Baal, fertility gods of the ancient Middle East.

I’ll never forget the day that Dr. Pratico brought a small urn that had a cover to class and poured out its contents on his desk. There were multiple small charred bones. They were the bones of a child 0-3 years of age that had been bound over a stack of wood, throat slit, then set on fire and burned to death. He said they found thousands of similar urns in the area around Carthage in North Africa. The Jewish people of the same period buried their urns in the valley of Ben Hinnom outside of Jerusalem in a place called Tophet, a word meaning “burning,” or “hell” – a place where they burned their children to death.

Why did the Israelites do such a thing? Like all people who want to get rich, they worshipped fertility gods and made sacrifices to them, including their children, so that they would be rewarded with more children, more cattle, more sheep, more crops, more land, and more, more, more of everything. They wanted these fertility gods to be happy and, in return, make them happy, healthy, and prosperous. Too bad they didn’t just trust the Lord.

Children’s Sabbath in the life of most of our churches has just come and gone where we focus on children and their welfare, but our society’s violence against children persists, and we must do something to stop it! Maybe you’ve heard the story of the people who were standing by a river and they noticed a baby floating down the river. People jumped into the water and rescued the baby. A short time later they saw another baby thrashing in the water and more people jumped in to rescue the child. This went on and on and everyone was pressed into rescue service. Finally, one man who had been part of the bucket-like baby brigade walked away. Everyone yelled at him and asked where he was going and pleaded with him to stay and help rescue all the babies. His reply was, “I’m going upstream and stop whoever is throwing all these babies into the water!” Amen!

That’s our situation, too. Children all around us are being harmed, neglected, abused, killed, and we’ve got to do more than just wait until they float downstream into our grasp. We need to find the source of the evil, and stop it. The United Methodist “Nothing But Nets” anti-malaria campaign is one way. Another is our Orangeburg District campaign to help children in a remote village in Ghana get the educational opportunities that will mean the difference between life and death for them. Our church hugely supports the “Life for Children’s Ministry” for AID’s orphaned children in Kenya. There are so many things that we can do. There are more things that we must do!

For instance, South Carolina’s school districts that are underfunded must be better funded. The State Supreme Court mandated a year ago that the legislature has to do more than provide a “minimally adequate” education as dictated by our state constitution. Nothing has been done yet, and that is appalling. Children are being thrown into the river; into life’s deluges and we’re not even rescuing them, much less trying to stop the inequities that exist.

I am not a socialist, but I am a Christian, and my faith tells me that I should do something to protect and provide for the “least of these.” Jesus said about children that “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 18:16). The time has come, in my mind, for us to do more than pick a Sunday and call it “Children’s Sabbath.” We need a lifestyle that protects children, supports them, and sacrifices for them!

I remember hearing of a preacher traveling from Atlanta to a conference at Clemson University in South Carolina. A young woman was to give the evening devotional and walked up with her legal-size yellow pad. Everyone was expecting something long, ill-prepared, and perhaps awkwardly painful. Her voice was low and she spoke in a language that wasn’t English. Then she spoke in another language that wasn’t English, then again, then again, and then again. According to the preacher that was listening, she then said something that sounded like German and he thought that he recognized it. Then it was in French and it was more recognizable. Finally, she said the same thing that she had been saying the whole time in English: “Mommy, I’m hungry.” Then she sat down, and it was awkwardly painful, and it was needed!

The preacher thought about what she said over and over again as he traveled back to Georgia, and as he entered the outskirts of Atlanta he saw a billboard that said this: “All You Can Eat $5.99.” All you can eat $5.99, a real good deal, but in his head all he could think was: “Mommy, I’m hungry.” God help us to quit sacrificing our children on the pyres of greed and indifference. Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Food for stomachs, minds, hearts – food for thought, isn’t it? How many children can we feed for $5.99?

School Children Hands

 

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Protect the Children!

Like everyone else I am shocked and saddened by the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The loss of twenty children’s lives is unfathomable. I cannot imagine the pain and grief of the parents, and I pray for them and the families of the adult victims, too. We have all noticed that many of the newscasters have painted this massacre as “evil.” They are absolutely correct.

For more evidence of evil’s reality, read Dr. Scott Peck’s book, ­People of the Lie. He talks about all kinds of evil and contends that those who exhibit it most dangerously are those whom have no conscience and are so enamored with themselves that they have a coating of self-assured Teflon. They are so deluded that no sense of personal responsibility sticks with them. They are narcissistic gods of their own dominions. This is the source of much of the evil in our world and especially the evil that victimizes children in human trafficking, pornography, neglect, sexual abuse, and the like.

Those who perpetrate these attacks on children are minions of a worse Evil that has been around ever since the Garden of Eden. In other words, there’s a history of evil’s war against children and it didn’t start this Christmas. For instance, when God-in-the-flesh Jesus was born, narcissistic King Herod’s jealousy was inflamed when the Magi came to visit the Christ Child. With his own power threatened by a child, he ordered all the little boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity murdered (Matthew 2:13-18).

Indeed, evil has been attacking children from the beginning of history. Who have been and continue to be the hardest hit victims of hunger, war, and crime – children, the innocents? I’ve seen this terrible history’s evidence. One of my seminary professors showed us tangible proof of atrocities against children. He brought a clay jar about 12 inches tall to class. He had acquired it on an archaeological dig in Carthage, located in modern day Tunisia. He described to us how there were thousands upon thousands of these urns unearthed. He opened up the urn and scattered across the desk the ashes and tiny bones. It was a child. In Middle Eastern culture there were those who thought that fertility gods would bless you if you paid homage by sacrificing one’s children.

This urn reflected the reality of ancient Israel’s compromise with the surrounding cultures. 2 Kings 17:7-23, especially verse 17, describes why this caused God to send them into exile in 722 B.C. They followed the Baal and Molech-worshipping practices that were prevalent in Carthage and many other places. They put their young children on a pyre of wood, slit their throats, and while they were dying of blood loss they also burned them to death. How horrible! The burial grounds called Tophet(h) in Carthage were replicated all around the Mediterranean, including the Valley of Ben Hinnom just outside the gates of Jerusalem. God punished the Israelites because they attacked their own children!

So at the first Christmas and throughout the Biblical witness there is ample evidence of children being victimized by evil. God, on the other hand, is always on the side of children. Let’s just use Jesus as described in Matthew’s Gospel as an example. In Matthew 18:1ff the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and the text says, “He called a little child and had him stand among them. He said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…’” The text goes even further and says about those who mislead a child (vs.6), “It would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Even with this endorsement of children and warning to those who would mistreat them, the disciples still didn’t get it. Matthew 19:13ff says, “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”

On this day of wondering, “Why?” there is very little that a anyone can say to the distraught and heartbroken people across Newtown, Connecticut, the U.S., or the whole world in which children will continue to be targeted by Evil’s attacks. There are unanswerable questions of why didn’t God strike down the shooter, why my child, why, why, why? The only answer is that evil did this, not God. God has a history of being on the side of children. Jesus in John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Let’s tell our children that there’s a war between good and evil, and evil often wins; but there will be a Day when good will have the final word and evil will be no more.

Until then we need to trust in the loving Parent who is on our side and does everything in God’s power to shield us in this freedom-ridden world which allows terrible crimes to occur. God allows us humans to have freedom only to see it abused. It is a mystery and we wish God would set things right so nothing like this will ever happen again. We know that in Bethlehem’s Babe the process of retaking the world for good has begun, and we say, “Come, Lord Jesus – Come!”

In the meantime, we can all hug our children and count every second with them as precious gifts beyond measure. We can do all that we can to protect them better. We can pass gun laws. We can pray, and especially we can teach children that houses of worship are supposed to be sanctuaries – places of refuge and protection in an evil world that specifically targets them. Christmas is a witness that this world has little or no room for the Christ Child who was born in a stable, but we can make room for Him in our hearts and live like Him in the world. We can send the message that while evil does lurk across the land, there is a God who has consistently proven love toward the least of these. God even chose to come and live among us as a child because children best reflect God’s purest creation.

Oh, God, please overshadow the broken lives of your children everywhere and give grace and comfort. Teach us to offer sanctuary to children so that we might better reflect the coming Prince of Peace, even Jesus the Christ. Stop the evil Herod’s of this fallen world, and help us to do our part in crushing crimes against children of all ages. In a choice between light and darkness, let us always choose the light of redeeming love. Amen.